Saturday Symposium: Terminology and the Gay/Straight Gap

Happy Saturday! We’d like to extend a special welcome to our new readers and commenters. There has been an incredible amount of conversation this week! We hope that you’ve enjoyed the conversations as much as we have.

Pausing for a brief administrative moment, we wanted to let you know we’ve changed our comment settings so comments nest 5 deep. We made this decision because we wanted to improve readability. We’d encourage you to use the comment box at the end of the page should you find yourself lacking a Reply button on a particular comment.

It’s time for us to ask our Saturday Symposium question:

How this works: It’s very simple. We ask a multi-part question related to a topic we’ve blogged about during the past week or are considering blogging about in the near future, and you, our readers, share your responses in the comments section. Feel free to be open, reflective, and vulnerable…and to challenge us. But as always, be mindful of the comment policy that ends each of our posts. Usually, we respond fairly quickly to each comment, but in order to give you time to think, come back, add more later if you want, and discuss with other readers, we will wait until after Monday to respond to comments on Saturday Symposium questions.

This week’s Saturday Symposium question: This week, we have had many conversations about how the church welcomes gay people. Our most discussed post was our response to Fr. Dwight Longenecker. We especially appreciated this comment from Will Duquette, in which Will shares that his dominant experience of gay people comes from media reporting on activists working to shut down florists and bakeries. We wanted to open a conversation about how people experience words like gay, straight, LGBT, same-gender loving, homosexual, same-sex attracted, transgender, cisgender, and the gender binary. How can you have respectful conversations with a person who experiences these terms radically differently than you do? What strategies have you found helpful in bridging gaps in understanding? What kinds of things widen the gaps? 

We look forward to reading your responses. If you’re concerned about having your comment publicly associated with your name, please consider using the Contact Us page to submit your comment. We can post it under a pseudonym (i.e. John says, “your comment”) or summarize your comment in our own words (i.e. One person observed…). Participating in this kind of public dialogue can be risky, and we want to do what we can to protect you even if that means we preserve your anonymity. Have a wonderful weekend!


Sarah and Lindsey

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

10 thoughts on “Saturday Symposium: Terminology and the Gay/Straight Gap

  1. I believe that labels can be part of our “gap” problem. Think of all of the labels we can place upon ourselves…for myself, I can identify with Christ follower of over 40 years, lesbian, in some ways liberal, sometimes conservative, public school educator, researcher, Bible college graduate, volunteer, coach, aunt, wife, avid reader, traveler, human being. There are parts (labels) of my identity that easily relate with others, and parts that do not. Some parts of me are not easily understood by others, namely that I am a Christian who happens to be lesbian. Others have no problem with that. I’ve learned that it does not matter so much that all people accept or understand me. It is most important that my relationship with Christ is number one. I have the Spirit of God living in me. This means I can love, forgive and overlook things that are not really all that important. Right now we all look through a glass darkly. One day it will be different. Until then, I need to shine the light of Christ through my words and deeds, and rely on the Holy Spirit to change the hearts and minds of others. This is nothing that I can do myself, or force on people, but I can be an example of Christ’s love. That’s my only sphere of influence, and what Christ would have me do.

    • Hi Laura, thanks for sharing your perspective. Have you noticed that people tend to assume something when you use the word “lesbian”?

  2. Hello, all (bloggers and commenters!). My perspective is that of a mostly-straight Catholic in his 40s, who at times has been inflexibly and somewhat obnoxiously “loyal to Church teaching” — who am hopefully broadening a bit in my sympathies, without diminishing in the aforesaid loyalty.

    I think that the word “gay” is a very convenient word in most instances, although I was startled once to see an Amazon review of a book of poems where the review was entitled “Another Gay Poet Like Gerard Manley Hopkins.” (It seems absurd to apply the word “gay” to a 19th-century celibate even though he was, as evidence suggests, strongly homosexual. I fear that I do associate “gay” at times with the more outré forms of advocacy, or with a certain insouciance about sexual activity. Allen Ginsberg was gay. Gerard Manley Hopkins was homosexual.) “Homosexual,” while certainly exact, does sound chilly and clincal. And “same-sex attracted” can be apt when one wishes to imply an effort to refrain from the explicitly sexual expression of those attractions.

    “Queer” has the pitfalls of any customarily pejorative word which the targets of such disdain attempt to reclaim. I generally don’t use it, but certainly don’t mind when other folks use it, if they think it best.

    I am violently allergic to words like “cisgender,” partially because I’ve forgotten what the prefix “cis” means, but more likely because I vehemently resist the pseudo-scientific un-beauty of such language. I also must confess to being a bad fellow to talk about transgenderism to. I believe that gender-identity is determined by DNA and not by the velleities of the gender-dysphoric.

    Acronyms have their utility, but I think I follow the main stream in preferring brief, clear words such as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual.” And despite my politics (conservative) and ecclesial leanings (equally conservative), I hope and pray that I treat everyone with the dignity and charity to which they are entitled because they are children of God.

    Thank you for allowing me to opine at such length. This is my sophomore comment. I really enjoy this blog.

    • Hi Thomas, thanks for your comment. We’ve definitely spent some time thinking about your thoughts.

      One of the things that we’ve noticed is that “gay” is a broad cultural signifier where many people feel comfortable assigning others to the group. Lindsey reflected more on this reality recently at:

      We also appreciated your thoughts on the word “cisgender.” We’re personally curious if there’s an analog between heterosexual/homosexual and straight/gay. The former sounds clinical whereas the latter has some value as cultural signifiers. We had quite the discussion of what transgender people are trying to communicate when they use the word cisgender, and will likely share our thoughts in a future post.

  3. Hello again, Sarah and Lindsey — Sorry for the double comment. I would cherish the chance to edit the part about Gerard Manley Hopkins and the word “gay.” I really don’t associate the word “gay” with outré behavior as much as I associate it with modernity. “Gay” implies the 20th century, say, 1969 or later. I think it’s anachronistic, and a bit tendentious, to call Fr Hopkins gay as that reviewer did. As I wrote a few minutes later, the word “gay” is fine almost all the time for everyday use.

    I’d also cherish the chance to edit my comment because I do sound dreadfully stiff! I’m not nearly as bad as I come off in comboxes! (I hope!)

  4. Let me leave this comment on this post, since it’s a “terminology” question:

    Why do you use the term “couple”? Are there specific attributes of your relationship that comprise the concept of “couplehood”?

    • Hi Jim, since this comment is about our relationship specifically, we’re going to answer it where you initially raised the question. This blog is a team effort of two people, and we have plans to answer your question as soon as we can. We don’t want you to think we’re ignoring you. However, we do appreciate your patience.

      On this post, we’re inviting people to discuss how people experience words like gay, straight, LGBT, same-gender loving, homosexual, same-sex attracted, transgender, cisgender, and the gender binary. How can you have respectful conversations with a person who experiences these terms radically differently than you do? What strategies have you found helpful in bridging gaps in understanding? What kinds of things widen the gaps?

  5. I think that all one can do is seek to define one’s terms and be civil about how the terms are differently defined. Terms change over the course of a dialogue too, so if somebody really takes issue with a term, I might use a different one so long as it did not prevent me from saying what I needed.

    When I say “gay”, I usually use the word to refer to males who have a sexual attraction to other males and/or prefer to be partnered with other males and/or maintain intimate relationships with other males.

    I am increasingly aware that “gay” has lost its gendered aspect in a way that lesbian has not. Many people say “gay” and mean “gay and lesbian and bisexual”. That doesn’t worry me too much, but I might sometimes need to clarify, “are you including women in your definitions”? I worry that much Christian dialogue does not actually consider lesbians or female bisexuals when using the word “homosexual”.

    I do not like the term “same sex attracted” because I’m not interested in making a distinction between people who are genitally active and those who are not. However, in the same way that I think it’s polite to clarify what pronoun somebody prefers (if I’m unsure), I would use the term SSA in a discussion if it was necessary, whilst making it clear that I probably define it more widely than my interlocutor.

    I guess defining terms at the beginning of a conversation helps too. And there’s a need to be committed to mutual dialogue, often something for which the Internet is not a good space. Without commitment to dialogue, language might be used violently in a way that erases people’s experience.

    Sometimes deliberate linguistic ambivalence is a rhetorical strategy. The Pope used it with interesting effect in his “who am I to judge?” comment.

    • Angela, we really appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. We find ourselves using similar strategies of respecting the terms that other people prefer for themselves while inviting any clarifying questions about the language we’re using.

Leave a Reply